Monday, October 31, 2005

A true and ghostly tale

My grandma was a Murphy before she married, which may explain both my gift of the gab and my acceptance of things that go bump in the night. The Irish, as you may well know, though somewhat civilized and evangelized, have never completely been willing to write off those eerie coincidences. Perhaps with it being the night when the curtain between this world and the next is more permeable, it's time to share some coincidences that occured on my sod here on this side of the pond.

Our house was once far on the edge of this small town in southwestern Wisconsin, built in 1922. We are only the third family to occupy this budget-Arts and Crafts bungalow, having moved here in 1982. The previous owners lived here but a year; prior to that, it was for years "the buttermaker's house." Mr. Runge grew up in this house, living here as a bachelor until retiring to warmer climes. Until his mother's death, she too lived here with her son. The house was mostly sound, though it showed its bachelor heritage in the form of ugly beige siding, horrible patterned carpet in the kitchen, and an incredibly ugly hot pink, 50s era bathroom, which by now is probably back in vogue, but we've since corrected that decorating faux pas. Although it had fallen into a bit of disrepair, we were delighted with a brick patio that had a stone fireplace, imagining evening fires with friends, kids chasing fireflies as we sipped our cold drinks. There was just one strange element of this patio. The gravestones.


Yes, gravestones, or rather, chunks of gravestones. Big marble pieces, with the corners broken off, and clearly having been in soil at one point in time, judging by the even stain along the bottom of the largest piece. The most we could make out was a name--"Sharpless"--and age at death--"Age 58 yea." The rest had long since been taken by time and the elements. They were a great conversation piece, leaning up against the brick wall.

We kept the conversation going until the day came when our then-young son, fooling around, had one of the chunks fall over and land on his foot. We realized it was bad enough our own kid's toe was swollen. What if it had been someone else's child? We got rid of the gravestones.

Fast forward to five or six years ago. My husband was out staining the deck we'd recently built one fall afternoon, when this stranger walked up and asked, "Do you like pictures?"

Turns out he was Mr. Runge's nephew, who had lived in the house next door, which we'd learned had been built when Mr. Runge's sister was married. The nephew had been visiting his mother and going through her things, and among them were some old photos of our house, back in the days when it was still the edge of town.

Of course I was thrilled to get these. We talked awhile with our visitor, and he shared a lot of anecdotes about the house and its occupants, and left his phone number, telling us to "call if you have more questions."

Bubbling back up, I remembered one more question.

"What was with those gravestones?"

"Oh, THOSE. My uncle was kind of weird, I always thought that was strange. He used those as table tops out here."

Well, we'd already been told that. I still wanted to know the answer to the Big Question.

"Where did they come from?"

"Oh, that's the strange part. He just kind of helped himself to them when they crumbled over in the graveyard."

I was starting to feel just a little uneasy.

"What graveyard?"

"Oh, back there." He pointed in the general direction of our back lot. "There's people buried out there. There was a really old graveyard there a long time ago."

Immediately, I began to wonder at all the "chicken bones" unearthed over the years in our vegetable garden each spring.

My sons, preadolescent at that point in time, were of course delighted to hear this story. Only lately have I learned from certain members of the family that perhaps there is more to this story. Apparently, at least two members of the household have seen a ghostly vision, always in the same corner of the house, always in the early morning, and always fleetingly. It's a feminine presence, and they feel that she is simply watching us to be sure that all is well with us.
If you look too closely, I'm told, that vision disappears. One must pass through quickly, and look from the corner of one's eye.

I haven't seen her yet. But my Irish soul tells me it's a good thing to have someone from the other side watching out for us. Heaven knows, we all could stand someone watching over us.

Happy Halloween!

The house, circa 1930

Comment: Several people have noticed a "ghostly figure" in the corner of this photo. I hadn't, until it was pointed out to me. Looking at the original, I'm sorry to say that this is not my household ghost, but what appears to be the photographer's shadow.

Too bad, but still kind of an amazing coincidence, given I had several photos from which to choose!

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At 7:52 PM, Blogger Wanda E. Santiago said...

Hey beautiful I believe grandma is watching over you!! WHich in this day and age is a good thing like Martha would say!! Hugs Wanda

At 2:14 AM, Blogger ~Kathryn~ said...

wow - that photo is just FABULOUS
what a wonderful treasure

not so sure about the graveyard in your backyard though LOL

At 4:59 AM, Anonymous Sharyn (Torm) said...

oooooooooooooooh, Love this!!! I always enjoy a good ghostly tale. I'm a firm believer in them. My hubby's great grandpa was a ghost, afterall.

At 5:16 AM, Blogger Gwyn said...

Okay Torm, it sounds like there's a story you should be sharing there!

At 6:38 AM, Anonymous Linda A. (elendae) said...

What a great story - and how cool that you were able to get photos of your house from way back when. And even cooler - that "ghostly" shape in the corner - you'll have to tell us whether it was a shadow from the scan, or if it is in the original photo too!!

At 7:00 AM, Blogger Lara said...

Yes....I noticed the "ghost" in the picture, too!
Love the story...interesting way to find out about an old graveyard right in your backyard, don't think I'd like that too well.

At 7:01 AM, Blogger Sherri said...

What an interesting tale. My great uncle could 'see' ghosts so the story goes. I loved listening to my dad pass those tales along to me over the years growing up.

At 7:15 AM, Anonymous kelly edgerton said...

Love the picture. What a treasure. As for ghosts... well, you know exactly how I feel about them!

At 7:41 AM, Blogger Candi said...

Very awesome story. I believe that she is watching over her house or maybe there was a long lost love that lived in there that she is still searching for. Hmmmm, grasping at straws here but how COOL that you shared this amazing story and even more amazing picture with us. Thank you so much.

At 8:21 AM, Blogger Katrine said...

Great story! I believe the ghost is Mr. Runge's mother. She loves that there is a family in her old home and likes to check on everyone just to see what's going on.

At 9:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had not noticed the ghost in the corner of the picture, but I have to say that it is really cool! How did you do that Gwyn? :)
I have lived in two haunted houses and a very cursed apartment. It seems like the presence in your house is peaceful and protective and that is a wonderful blessing. May it be the previous owner's mother? Or some lady from the graveyard behind your house? I am more inclined to think that it was the second. Maybe a girl that used to live in town and liked the bachelor...watching over his house now that he is gone...Either way, it is a wonderful story :)

At 8:56 PM, Anonymous Becky said...

What a great tale!! Love that picture, too...I miss my Arts & Crafts home.

At 7:54 AM, Anonymous Loretta said...

A great tale! I sometimes think I'd love to have a watchful spirit in the house, but then I know I'd be a chicken and freak out. I love your stories and your photos. My blog's tag line is "we all have stories to tell" and your blog is the proof of that.


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